A favorite tradition for the company of A Christmas Carol is the annual donation collection for a D.C.-based charitable organization. Over the past seven years, the cast has raised more than $550,000 for different local charities. That tradition continues this year with a campaign for Food and Friends.
In advance of the rehearsals each year, the company receives information about several local charity organizations and is encouraged to research them on their own. At first rehearsal, the cast votes on which charity they will collect for, and then, Ford’s Theatre staff call the charity to share the news.
“Collecting donations is a highlight of the A Christmas Carol experience,” cast member Stephen F. Schmidt says. “Dickens has written a beautiful and enduring story about the importance of keeping our less-fortunate fellow humans in the forefront of our thoughts, especially at the holiday season. We give our audience an immediate opportunity to heed Mr. Dickens’s message of charity and hope.”
“There is a special synergy of sharing a story of growth and compassion and following it up with an opportunity allowing everyone involved to have a practical, immediate mirror of action in their own life,” cast member Gregory Maheu shares. “It is an integral part of the Carol experience for us to find a way to serve the community. It wouldn’t be A Christmas Carol to me without it.”
In 2015, the company raised an all-time high of $90,000 for N Street Village, an organization that serves more than 1,400 women each year and is the largest provider of homeless services for women in Washington, D.C. In 2015 alone, nearly 400 women and 51 families were provided housing through N Street Village. According to N Street's Donor Relationship Manager Megan McKinley, $90,000 is enough to cover the expenses of the N Street Day Center for an entire year.
“The Village Day Center is often the first point of entry for new clients and is open 365 days a year, providing nutritious meals, access to showers and laundry facilities as well as resources to find housing and employment,” McKinley says. “N Street Village is a community of empowerment and recovery for homeless and low-income women in Washington, D.C. With comprehensive services addressing both emergency and long-term needs, we help women achieve stability and make meaningful gains in their housing, income, employment, mental health, physical health and addiction recovery.”
In 2013, the company collected for Covenant House Washington (CHW), whose mission is to empower, protect and serve homeless, disconnected and exploited young people across the Greater Washington region. CHW offers support and services designed to help young people transition into adulthood successfully and break the cycle of homelessness.
CHW Development Coordinator Rhonda Green-Smith says the Ford’s donation helped their Safe Haven Emergency Housing Program—a 36-bed emergency housing program for homeless young people between the ages of 18 and 24.“Safe Haven is designed to provide youth with a transitional period in which they will receive an array of educational/academic, financial, workforce readiness skills and socialemotional support services to help meet their established goals and pursue stable and/or permanent housing and overall stability.”
But the giving doesn’t end with asking audience members for donations. In 2012 when the company collected for Martha’s Table, a charity addressing low-income families and individuals with education, nutrition, clothing and family support programs, several actors went there to volunteer and see the organization’s work first hand.
“It was really cool to meet people who worked there, see their space, and help them out for a few hours,” cast member Kristen Garaffo remembers. “We really got to experience their mission and see what they do on a day-to-day basis. It made me feel good to know that our community was giving Martha’s Table a really beautiful gift for the holiday season, so that, in turn, they could continue to feed low-income and homeless children, families and individuals.”
“We are continually grateful for the Ford’s Theatre commitment to supporting other community organizations,” McKinley says. “You continue to have a lasting impact on the lives of [those] we serve.”
How can you make a difference this holiday season? In addition to financial contributions and volunteering, consider organizing food, clothing or other drives specific to a charity’s goals, or serving as a sponsor for small or large events.
Ebenezer Scrooge says it best when he exclaims, “I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, the Future. The spirit of all three will strive within me! I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.”
Patrick Pearson is Director of Artistic Programming at Ford’s Theatre, and also is a freelance director. Patrick has his MFA in Directing from California State University, Fullerton.